If you’re from Oregon or have lived in the state for any period of time, you’ve likely heard residents say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change.” These variations in weather and temperature not only affect our lives but can also dictate the best time to plant trees in Oregon.
Planting trees comes with many considerations so you can ensure success and a healthy tree-scape. Many tree planters remember to consider their soil, the species of tree, and the right tree specimen itself, but not everyone remembers there’s also a right time of year to plant. Failure to consider all aspects of tree planting can lead to struggling trees, dead trees, wasted landscape, and wasted money. It’s always ideal to consult specialists, such as those at Mr. Tree, when planning to make new or significant changes to your tree-scape. For the do-it-yourselfers, however, we want to provide you with some considerations and best practices as you get started.
Planting During Dormancy
Contrary to popular belief, the best time to plant a tree is not in spring but when the tree is dormant—when no leaves remain on the tree—or going into dormancy. This is usually around fall. When a tree is dormant, its nutritional needs and respiration rate are lower. The tree has slowed or stopped new branch and offshoot growth, which lets it focus all energy and nutrients on developing a strong root system. With dormancy in mind, generally between September and December is the best time to plant trees in Oregon.
Oregon’s autumns are nice and cool with plenty of rain, making it the ideal time for adding to your tree-scape. Extremely high or low temperatures will negatively affect newly planted trees, ruling out our cold winters, fluctuating springs, and hotter summers. As some trees have a harder time making it through the winter than others, be sure to take precautions and protect newly planted trees against upcoming weather changes as well. Planting in early fall will give your tree time to strengthen and adapt before winter comes. Since early fall in Oregon can have some dry weeks, be sure the tree gets regular watering during periods of low to no rainfall.
When you’ve determined your timeline for planting your trees be sure to be prepared and ready to plant correctly as well.
Preparation and Planting
Your tree will have a better chance of surviving if it’s planted quickly and correctly after purchase and arrival. This means doing some preparation ahead of time.
First, for safety, reach out to a utility-locating service and have them come out and check the area for your new tree before you start to dig. You’ll also need to know your soil composition to ensure which compost or fertilizers, if any, are the best options for your new tree as well.
Preparation can mean having some of the hole dug and ready before picking up your new sapling. While there are some things you can’t quite have completed without having the tree on hand, preparation will make the process for you and the tree run more smoothly.
In general, a wide hole will help the roots of your new tree get established in less compacted soil. We recommend digging the circumference of the hole two to four times as wide as the root ball or container the tree comes in. Some soils, like clay, will make a slightly smaller hole desirable to prevent too much water from pooling at the bottom. If you’re unsure what’s best, you can always reach out to trained arborists for assistance.
As for depth, a common mistake is to plant the tree too deep, cutting off oxygen to the root system and making it more susceptible to root disease. Most trees have a flare or bulging area where the root system and trunk connect, called a root collar or crown. This should be slightly visible when the tree is planted to ensure adequate oxygen flow. A good rule of thumb is to dig the hole the same depth as the container or root ball.
If you’re planning to add some nutrient-rich compost or slow-release fertilizer, dig a little deeper and layer this near the bottom, mixed well with some of the original soil. This will encourage the root system to grow down into the nutrient-dense soil. Ensure adequate drainage by filling the hole with water and then checking that it has drained out within six to eight hours. If it hasn’t, call your local tree service for advice and options.
With the hole dug, you can plant your new sapling. Be sure to carefully loosen and separate roots before placing the tree. Also, moisten the root system before you begin to fill in the soil. If you think you need to stake your new tree to provide stability, be sure to place the stakes before covering the roots to avoid staking the tree and damaging the root system. Use two stakes on opposite sides with flexible ties that will provide support and allow one to two inches of movement in any direction so the tree can stabilize and be strong.
Fill in the hole halfway then tamp down lightly with your foot. This removes air pockets and ensures the tree is standing upright. Moisten the soil slowly and then fill the hole the rest of the way to the collar or just below, repeating the tamping and watering. The soil should be firm but not packed tightly.
Even if you’ve made sure it’s the best time to plant trees in Oregon and planted the tree correctly, trees need ongoing care. This is especially true in the first three to five years of their life. Maintenance activities include watering, pruning, mulching, fertilization, and more.
At Mr. Tree, we share other helpful tips and advice to support the ongoing upkeep of your trees for years to come. We’re also here to provide any and all residential services you may need if you decide you want the help and support of trained arborists.